Chris Matthews Tuesday once again showed that his tenuous grasp of reality is getting dangerously weak.
During the final segment of "Hardball," the host unequivocally blamed the 2007 financial crisis and resulting recession on George W. Bush just moments before he said, "Okay, Obama hasn't been able to get us out of it yet, but...there’s no sense blaming one Party or the other" (video follows with transcript and commentary):
While the vast majority of those in the establishment press doggedly insist on reporting seasonally adjusted numbers in most economic spheres, there is an odd exception: Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller Home Price Indices.
Not that it's completely the press's fault. S&P emphasizes the raw numbers over the seasonally adjusted ones, and for a pretty good reason: The raw numbers represent what's really happening on the ground with home prices. In the current economy, the seasonal calculations can't really be said to reflect typical seasonal patterns. Of course, this logic should apply to other key areas, particularly employment, but we (or maybe it's the reporters) are apparently not mature enough to understand large monthly swings in jobs added or lost, or able to see them in the context of previous years.
Given that the press usually hangs its hat on seasonal numbers, you'd think they'd be more than a little shy about copying S&P's press release, which today described a very small increase as a a "boost" in home prices, which disppeared after seasonal adjustment, as seen below:
Thursday morning, initial weekly unemployment claims as reported by Uncle Sam's Department of Labor came in at a seasonally adjusted 414,000. It was 16,000 lower than the previous week's upwardly revised (as usual) number, but certainly no indicator in and of itself of meaningful improvement.
The housing industry data really wasn't any better. True, the seasonally adjusted figures from the Census Bureau for building permits issued and housing units started were somewhat improved, but the raw data still had several examples of record weakness.
Wait until you see the headline the Associated Press applied to a story covering the DOL and Census reports by Derek Kravitz and Christopher Rugaber:
CNN's Eliot Spitzer arrogantly lectured about the benefits of Keynesian economics Sunday while accusing fellow panelists on "Fareed Zakaria GPS" of not knowing what they were talking about because they weren't business owners.
This led British historian Andrew Roberts to point out that President Obama's administration are mostly academics, and Ann Coulter to ask Spitzer, "What business have you ran? You’re a governor" (video follows with transcript and commentary):
In one of five items they alleged were false statements made by Mitt Romney in his presidential candidacy announcement speech, Associated Press "fact-checkers" Calvin Woodward and Jim Kuhnhenn claimed that the economy has not gotten worse since Barack Obama became president. Part 1 (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog) clearly showed that the facts are on Romney's side. The current score is Romney 1, AP 0.
The AP pair's four other allegedly false Romney statements have to do with foreclosures, whether President Obama has "apologized to the world," Obama's economic policies, and whether the candidate raised taxes while he was Governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007.
Here is Romney's foreclosures statement: "Three years later, foreclosures are still at record levels. Three years later the prices of homes continue to fall."
Here's the pathetic response from Woodward and Kuhnhenn:
As no clear frontrunner emerges in the Republican presidential nomination race, the liberal media are in a full-scale panic over the thought that the former governor of Alaska might eventually enter and challenge their beloved president in November 2012.
On Sunday, "Face the Nation's" Bob Schieffer asked Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour with some incredulity, "Could you ever envision yourself supporting a ticket that had Sarah Palin at the top?" (video follows with transcript and commentary):
Frank dismissed questions about the “potential ethical conflict,” of regulating Fannie Mae while Herb Moses, whom Frank has called his “spouse,” worked there from 1991 through 1998.
The New York Times reporter Gretchen Morgensen was the first to report Frank’s role in helping Moses get the job at Fannie Mae, according to the Herald. The Boston paper also reported that in a May 24, radio interview on WBUR’s “Fresh Air,” Morgensen said Fannie Mae “rolled out the red carpet” for Moses to “curry favor with Frank and other members of the Financial Services Committee."
Shortly after 8:30 this morning, I began thinking that my CNNMoney.com e-mail alerts had stopped arriving. So I went to the Census Bureau's web site and learned that its monthly report on housing starts, building permits, and other construction-related news had indeed been released. The news for the already moribund industry was awful: Building permits in April fell by a seasonally adjusted 4% from March and by 12.0% from April 2010, while the comparable tumbles in housing starts were 10.6% and 23.9%, respectively.
Well, my opening and closing bell e-mails arrived as expected. So unless there was a technical glitch, this means that CNNMoney decided not to issue a post-8:30 alert for the bad housing news.
Let's take a look at the two e-mails which did arrive. First, just after the opening bell:
In an unbylined report this morning on homebuilders' continued pessimism, the Associated Press continues to mislead its readers and other news consumers about just how bad the market for new homes has been during the past two years.
The government has been reporting new home sales since 1963. The 320,000 news homes sold in 2010, which followed sales of only 375,000 in 2009, are the two worst performances on record. But that does not mean that they are the two worst performances in nearly a half-century, as AP continues to insist, as seen below:
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman Monday wrote another in a series of factually dishonest pieces about budget deficits and what he likes to call 'the Great Recession."
In his "The Unwisdom of Elites," the unabashed liberal made numerous falsehoods and omissions to blame our current economic and budget woes exclusively on George W. Bush and "small groups of influential people":
If you had any questions about just how far to the left New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is, they were answered Monday when he expressed enthusiastic support for the Congressional Progressive Caucus's radical tax-hiking "People's Budget."
In his "Let's Take a Hike," the Nobel laureate left no doubt about his desire to swiftly redistribute America's wealth with little regard for the economic consequences:
The Associated Press's Derek Kravitz seems to have a difficult time quoting government statistics without rewording them. This is a far from harmless habit.
Tuesday, Kravitz the Creative reported on the Census Bureau's information release on March homebuilding industry activity. His first two paragraphs and the story's headline (y'know, the parts that are more likely to be read over the airwaves or seen by readers in a hurry) told us that "new-home construction" increased by 7.2%. Either the poor chap believes that "housing starts," which is the only number which increased to that degree, is a synonym for "new-home construction," or he was trying to put a prettier face than deserved on a set of depressed industry data that barely showed a pulse.
After two cheery paragraphs, Kravitz segued into communicating the truly pessimistic nature of the housing industry these days, and noted two pieces of information which virtually prove that "new-home construction" did not increase by the percentage stated -- if it increased at all.
Here are several paragraphs from the AP report (bolded paragraph is where the two contradictory data points are found):
As night follows day, the press is beginning to go after a business entity which had the nerve to do its job and call attention to Uncle Sam's dire fiscal situation.
Standard and Poor's is presumably not 100% populated with angels, but it didn't deserve the gratuitous and ignorant shots fired at it this evening by the Associated Press's Bernard Condon and an "expert" he quoted. In attempting to tar the firm, Condon acted as if the mortgage-lending mess was the creation of "banks" which marketed mortgage-backed securities and asleep at the switch ratings agencies. He didn't once mention Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, the fiasco's Democratic crony-run uber-culprits, which for 15 years consistently deceived the markets about the quality of the already marginal loans underlying the securities they issued .
Here are selected paragraphs from Condon's cracked creation, including a headline which gives away a resentment that the ratings agencies are still actually able to do what they were designed to do (bold is mine):
When Democrat presidential candidate Walter Mondale announced in his October 1984 debate with former President Reagan that he would raise taxes if elected, his campaign was over, and he ended up losing one of the biggest election routs in American history.
As Barack Obama prepares to offer the nation his deficit reduction plan Wednesday, it is widely believed he is going to recommend tax hikes on at least the upper wage earners in this nation.
If this is true, is he repeating Mondale's mistake less than nineteen months before Election Day? Are Americans hungrier for tax increases now than they were 27 years ago?
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman was in his predictable defend Obama at all costs mode on Sunday's "This Week."
When former Bush administration official Torie Clarke said unemployment remains high because the private sector is concerned about future regulations, the Nobel Laureate scoffed, "All of this stuff about uncertainty is just a myth being made up to blame this on Obama" (video follows with transcript and commentary):
Former Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich wrote a truly nonsensical piece for the Huffington Post Tuesday ironically called "The Republicans' Big Lies About Jobs."
MSNBC's Chris Matthews must have loved this tripe and its sophomoric title for he invited the Berkeley professor on Wednesday's "Hardball" so that the pair could put on a clinic in liberal economic fantasy (video follows with partial transcript and oodles of commentary):
What Kravitz's story doesn't carry is the word "existing." How odd, since the National Association of Realtors (NAR) which produces the report, calls it "Existing-Home Sales" at the report's home web page, and labels the data "Existing Home Sales" in two different places in the detailed data.
It would be one thing if Kravitz were, as he may be, "merely" trying to keep his bad-news report from being found by search engine users looking for related sales news; a search on "existing" at the AP's home site does not return Kravitz's report. But his dispatch's headline is unclear as to which type of sales are even involved (new or existing?), and his repeated use of the term "previously occupied homes" instead of "existing" might lead some readers to believe that the data involved exclude homes which have been vacant for some time, which is not the case.
Here are excerpts from Kravitz's crummy job, which also contains something that is more predictable than the weather, i.e., a weather-related excuse:
Most readers here aren't aware that Associated Press reporters began withholding their bylines this week in support of their union's "quality journalism proposals." Participating reporters are refusing to have their name placed on AP stories. It appears to apply to stories datelined in the U.S. and not overseas (as seen here).
It is truly a wonder that the world has gone on while AP reporters refuse to tell us who wrote the wire service's U.S. stories (/sarc).
The byline strike springs from the wire service's refusal, among other things, according to the News Media Guild, the union which represents AP newsroom personnel, to accept a "fixed-cost pension plan." The AP wants a defined-contribution plan (i.e., something similar or identical to a 401(k)).
Here are some economy, business, and political "gems" appearing at AP during the past few days which can't be traced to a specific reporter:
Although it would be unfair to characterize Derek Kravitz's report at the Associated Press this morning on the Census Bureau's new home sales report as anything but bleak, the AP reporter missed what should have been the most obvious stat: The 19,000 new homes actually sold nationwide in January 2011 (i.e., not seasonally adjusted, real number) is the lowest for any single month on record in the 48 years the Bureau has been reporting this information.
Kravitz also demonstrated that he has picked up a couple of bad habits the AP's Martin Crutsinger displayed when reporting on news home sales during several previous months. First, he set the bar which would represent a legitimate industry recovery artificially low. Second, he gave readers the impression that the current housing market is better than it was a "nearly half-century" ago, which of course it isn't.
Here are several paragraphs from Kravitz's creation:
On Wednesday, with a bit of an assist from the Census Bureau's seasonalizers, the Associated Press's Derek Kravitz, with the help of Martin Crutsinger, covered the Bureau's just-published January data on housing starts and building permits. Though no one could accuse the AP pair of excessive cheerleading, they missed the most important comparison: How did January 2011 compare to January 2010? The answer: It was worse.
Not content with casting doubt on charges made by New York City Councilman Daniel Halloran, Republican of Queens, of a union-authorized work slowdown during the infamous blizzard that hit Manhattan the day after Christmas, New York Times reporters Russ Buettner and William Rashbaum dove into his personal finances to discredit him in Wednesday’s “Evidence Is Elusive on Charge Of a Blizzard Work Slowdown.”
Given the importance the Times evidently places on the financial situation of the wives of its subjects, one wonders about the paper's casual attitude when one of its own economics reporters, Edmund Andrews, wrote “Busted,” a May 2009 book about his own personal mortgage crisis that denounced greedy banks, yet left out his wife's previous two bankruptcies.
The story rocketed around New York City when streets went uncleared after the Dec. 26 blizzard: Sanitation workers, angry about job reductions, had deliberately staged a work slowdown.
It resulted in wisecracks on “Saturday Night Live,” fiery denunciations of unions on cable news and four criminal investigations.
And it occurred because one man, Councilman Daniel J. Halloran, Republican of Queens, said five city workers had come to his office during the storm and told him they had been explicitly ordered to take part in a slowdown to embarrass Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
To those who follow the news fairly closely and look at underlying reports, CNN's email alerts are sometimes entertaining. Much less frequently are the accurate and informative.
Even though they tend not to realize it, those who don't follow the news closely and attempt to stay informed by relying on CNN's alerts are regularly deceived by the network that used to call itself "the most trusted name in news."
An example of such deception arrived in my e-mail box yesterday:
At several points in 2010 (just one example: at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog; graphic), I pointed out that despite the federal government's continued insistence that its budget deficit for fiscal 2010 was on track to come in lower than fiscal 2009, the deficit based on real spending would be, and turned out to be, higher in fiscal 2010. That's important to know, as clever year-crossing accounting entries can't change the fact that Uncle Sam's financial situation continues to worsen at an accelerating rate. Don't expect the establishment press to acknowledge this; the illusion of improvement is important to getting their propped-up president another four years.
Similarly, it may be futile to expect that establishment media outlets, especially the Associated Press, will ever report that 2010 was the worst yearby far in new home construction since World War II. That this is indeed the case was shown last month (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog). This post will use December 2010 data, most of which is now in, to add an exclamation point.
Yesterday, the AP's Winston Smith-like headline writers tried to pass off 2010 as bad, but not as bad as 2009. As is the case with the government's annual budget deficit, the AP's persistent prevarication in the face of drop-dead obvious facts is an attempt to make readers, listeners and viewers believe that as bad as things are, they're at least improving (with implication, of course, that our poor, put-upon president is making progress cleaning up what was supposedly George Bush's mess). Things are not getting better, and Martin Crutsinger's narrative in the related article stops just short of saying so.
The folks in the establishment press are looking for any sign of upward movement in the housing market, especially in new home construction, that they can portray positively as the beginning of a general recovery.
That desperate search explains the content of the following e-mail alert from CNN which arrived in my inbox this morning:
In its reports about the U.S. homebuilding industry and new home sales, the Associated Press has gotten lazy and/or deliberately deceptive. In doing so, it is giving readers, listeners and viewers at its subscribing outlets a completely incorrect impression that the industry and market are getting off the mat after recently being in their worst shape, in their words, "in 47 years." After identifying offending examples, I will demonstrate that industry activity and sales during 2010 have been almost undoubtedly at their lowest levels since World War II.
The following items, all from Thursday, demonstrate AP's concerted attempt to limit the damage to "47 years" ago.
2010 will be by far the worst ever in the 48 years records of new home sales have been kept, and there is little if any reason to believe things will get better soon. The news on existing home sales has hardly been better, given the price reductions sellers have had to make to move their homes. Graphics will follow shortly indicating just how bad the market for new and existing homes has been this year.
These on-the-ground realities explains why one's jaw has to almost hit the ground when reading the headline and first few paragraphs of Julie Schmit's December 23 front-pager in USA Today's Money section:
Optimism for home sales adds up Demand for existing houses continues to rise
Leave it to the Associated Press, with the assistance of the "magic" of seasonal adjustments, to make the November housing market appear as if it was a bit better than the two months that preceded it. It wasn't.
Thursday, the wire service grabbed the single crumb that was available, namely the Census Bureau's report earlier that day that annualized, seasonally adjusted housing starts had increased by about 4% and turned it into a decidedly positive headline: "Home construction up after 2 months of declines."
AP Economics Writer Jeannine Aversa watered down the headline in her very first sentence, describing the "up" part of the headline as a "nudge."
That's nowhere near enough. The available evidence indicates that November may have been the worst month the homebuilding industry has had in 4-5 decades of related recordkeeping.
There are many annoying aspects of the sea change in media coverage of the economy since Barack Obama became president. At or near the top of the list is how the business press has downplayed the unprecedented housing industry disaster, while lowering the bar that will supposedly represent a real recovery to ridiculous levels.
According the the Census Bureau (12-page PDF), 23,000 new homes were sold nationwide in October. That figure ties August 2010 and December 1966 (when the population was 35% smaller) for is the lowest single month since records have been kept. More extensive evidence of how bad things are will come after the jump.
On Wednesday, the Associated Press's Martin Crutsinger provided as good an example as any of the press template for housing coverage -- acknowledge that, yes, things are really bad; give readers an absurdly low benchmark for what would represent real improvement and how long it should take to get there; locate some "expert" to say it's really not all that bad; and find some kind of anecdote somewhere, anywhere, that will leave the impression that things might somehow be getting better: